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Struggling for a Constitutional Regime: Armenian-Young Turk Relations in the Era of Abdulhamid II, 1895 -1909


Struggle for a Constitutional Regime:

Armenian-Young Turk Relations in the Era of Abdulhamid II,

1895 -1909

Although scholars have devoted substantial attention to Armenian revolutionary movements, the treatment of the subject of relations between various Armenian organizations and the Young Turks and their leaders, both individually or through various institutions, have received tangential consideration at best. This is largely due to the paucity of original sources for the second half of the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II given that most Ottoman, Armenian Revolutionary Federation's (ARF, also referred to as Tashnagtsutyun) as well as the Social Democratic Hnchagyan Party's archives were very hard, if not impossible, to access. These hardships were partially resolved when the Ottoman Archives were opened to the academic public in 2005, while ARF archives became accessible through special permission only. There still remains the Archives of the Armenian Patriarchates of Constantinople and Jerusalem, as well as the archives of the Social Democratic Hnchagyan Party that remain closed to the general public.

Two seminal studies by a leading Turkish historian, Şükrü Hanioğlu, provided the first careful assessments regarding the Young Turks, albeit from the Turkish perspective, which relied heavily on Ottoman archival materials. Yet, while both studies have added to our knowledge of what transpired at the time, they skirted much of the critical Armenian contributions that assisted the Young Turks to attain power. Hence, It is the overall purpose of this dissertation to address precisely the significant relationships between various Armenian leaders, political parties, and revolutionary movements with their Ottoman counterparts to clarify what actually occurred on the ground and to capture the reasons as to why these relations did occur. This study aims to shed light on some of the reasons that motivated Armenians and Ottomans alike to collaborate and, to the degree that it may be possible to ascertain, to identify causes for their failures.

The dissertation opens with an analysis of long-promised reform efforts, ostensibly to benefit Armenian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire after the Treaty of Berlin (1878), and the skillful manipulations by Sultan Abdulhamid II to dilute them. An effort is made to assess carefully the palace's reliance on the Kurdish Hamidiye Regiments, which were used to sabotage reforms, and to understand better Constantinople's political intrigues. Because it was during this process that the Armenian Millet [nation]--hitherto known as the Millet-i Sadika (Loyal Millet)--was transformed into a Millet-i Asiya (Rebel Millet), the introduction examines how revolutionary agitations led to profound socio-political schisms.

Much of this rich history is described and analyzed in the six chapters that follow. In Chapter One, the history from the "May Reform Project of 1895" to Abdulhamid II's abdication in 1909 is thoroughly discussed, placing the agitations for reforms within the overall tensions that affected the Ottoman Empire. In fact, as the Armenian Millet faced its conundrum at a time when Turks themselves wished to establish a constitutional monarchy to unite the empire and its peoples, the roles played by Armenian subjects were especially important. In turn, this vital position of instituting a constitutional regime attracted Armenian revolutionary movements to Young Turk leaders, who promised that their own revolution against the sultan would open a new era in Ottoman history. The Young Turks assured their European critics that their objective was to restore the 1876 Constitution, which was promulgated at the same time Abdulhamid II acceded the throne, but which was suspended as a result of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. Several maintained that they were following in the footsteps of the reformist Midhat Pasha and his disciples, who became better known as the Yeni Osmanlılar (New Ottomans. Also known as Young Ottomans).

Despite the Young Turks initial enthusiasm to establish cordial relations with their Armenian revolutionary counterparts, strong elements of suspicions and mistrust were present. These important differences are discussed and analyzed in Chapter Two. By December 1907, Armenian and Young Turk forces managed to overcome political hurdles to form a united front, whose declared goal was to topple Abdulhamid II. How the two sides tried to overcome their mutual reservations and doubts, which colored future ties, are assessed in Chapter Three. Inasmuch as one of the chief disputes between Armenian revolutionary and Young Turk leaders were the conditions of the Armenian inhabited provinces, Chapter Four provides an examination of the situation in the eastern provinces and how the Armenian revolutionary movement was able (or at least tried very hard) to revolutionize the Kurdish and Turkish populations there, in accordance with the directives of the first anti-Hamidian conference held in Paris in 1902.

Along the same lines, the study further tackles the issue of Armenian-Macedonian relations in Chapter Five, which were blessed, and to a certain degree manipulated, by the fledgling state of Bulgaria for its own political and national gains. In fact, one could naturally speak about a Bulgarian connection vis-à-vis this cooperation, which is seldom addressed in scholarly sources.

Finally, Chapter Six brings forth a reevaluation of the reasons behind the April 1909 Adana Massacres and illustrates why the ARF continued to cooperate with the Young Turks despite the slaughters, if for no other reason than to give the fledgling constitutional-revolutionary movement an opportunity to succeed.

The dissertation closes with an assessment of Armenian-Young Turk relations. Despite outrageous developments, the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress, Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyyeti) leadership covered up the vagaries of bewildered officials, confused by the desire to investigate wrongdoings, while seeking Armenian political assistance against the Sublime Porte.

Both at the official as well as the popular levels, Armenian ties with Ottoman leaders disintegrated, which planted the seeds for fresh animosities. By 1913, the gap that separated the two nations enlarged, and while few anticipated future catastrophes, revealing signs were present that tensions simmered. Regrettably, hardly anyone exercised the foresight to prevent new tragedies.

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